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On the morning of September 11, 2001, the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history took place when four commercial airliners were hijacked by members of the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda. The first two planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were flown into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, hit the western side of the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C. The fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed down in a field in rural Pennsylvania, never reaching its intended target because its crew and passengers fought back against the terrorists. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks, a number that would almost certainly have been significantly higher if not for the actions of those aboard Flight 93.
READ MORE: How United Flight 93 Passengers Fought Back on 9/11
9/11 Attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping many more on the building’s higher floors. Eighteen minutes later, a second Boeing 767 appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center and sliced into the south tower. As millions watched the events unfolding in New York in horror, American Airlines Flight 77 circled over downtown Washington, D.C. and slammed into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters at 9:45 a.m. Less than 15 minutes after the terrorists struck the nerve center of the U.S. military, the situation in New York took a catastrophic turn for the worse when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a massive cloud of dust and smoke. At 10:30 a.m. the north tower also gave way. Faced with the knowledge that the United States was under attack, the nation’s air traffic controllers began a frantic attempt to wrest back control of America’s skies.
WATCH: 9/11: Inside Air Force One on HISTORY Vault
Flight 93 Comes Under Attack
United Airlines Flight 93, a regularly scheduled early-morning nonstop flight from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California, departed at 8:42 a.m., just minutes before the first hijacked plane struck the World Trade Center. The flight’s takeoff had been delayed for nearly 45 minutes due to air traffic at Newark International Airport. The plane carried seven crew-members and 33 passengers, less than half its maximum capacity. Also on the flight were four hijackers who had successfully boarded the plane with knives and box cutters. The plane’s late departure had disrupted the terrorists’ timeline for launching their attack; unlike the hijackers on the other three planes, they did not attempt to gain control of the aircraft until nearly 40 minutes into the flight.
Meanwhile, Ed Ballinger, a flight dispatcher for United Airlines, was taking steps to warn flights of possible cockpit intrusions. At 9:19 a.m. Ballinger informed pilots of the attacks on the World Trade Center; Flight 93 received his transmission at 9:23 a.m.. Captain Jason Dahl responded at 9:26 a.m. to request clarification. At roughly 9:28 a.m. the terrorists successfully infiltrated the plane’s cockpit, and air traffic controllers heard what they believed to be two mayday calls amid sounds of a struggle. At 9:32 a.m. a hijacker, later identified as Ziad Jarrah, a trained pilot, was heard over the flight data recorder, directing the passengers to sit down and stating that there was a bomb aboard the plane. The flight data recorder also shows that Jarrah reset the autopilot, turning the plane around to head back east.
Flight 93’s Passengers Fight Back
Huddled in the back of the plane, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 made a series of calls on their cell phones and the in-flight Airfones, informing family members and officials on the ground of the plane’s hijacking. When they learned the fate of the three other hijacked flights in New York City and Washington, D.C., the passengers realized that their plane was involved in a larger terrorist plot and would likely be used to carry out further attacks on U.S. soil.
After a brief discussion, a vote was taken and the passengers decided to fight back against their hijackers, informing several people on the ground of their plans. One of the passengers, Thomas Burnett Jr., told his wife over the phone, “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.” Another passenger, Todd Beamer, was heard over an open line saying, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.” Sandy Bradshaw, a flight attendant, called her husband and explained that she had slipped into a galley and was filling pitchers with boiling water. Her last words to him were: “Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.”
At 9:57 a.m. the passengers and crew members aboard Flight 93 began their counterattack, as recorded by the cockpit voice recorder. In response, the hijacker piloting the plane began to roll the aircraft, pitching it up and down to throw the charging passengers off balance. Worried that the passengers would soon break through to the cockpit, the hijackers made the decision to crash the plane before reaching their final destination. At 10:02 a.m. a voice was recorded saying, “Yes, put it in it, and pull it down.” The airplane then rolled onto its back and plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 580 miles per hour.
What Was Flight 93's Target?
Flight 93’s intended target is not definitively known, but it is believed that the hijackers were targeting the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland or several nuclear power plants along the Eastern seaboard. The passengers who fought back are credited with averting more deaths on 9/11.
READ MORE: On 9/11, Heather Penney Tried to Bring Down Flight 93 in a Kamikaze Mission
Flight 93: The Shanksville Crash Site
The fireball from the plane, which was carrying 7,000 gallons of fuel, scorched hundreds of acres of earth and set the surrounding trees ablaze for hours. The crash site in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, near the town of Shansksville, was littered with the wreckage from the fragmented plane, with a debris field scattered nearly eight miles away from the initial point of impact. Despite the devastation, investigators were able to recover both the plane’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, or black box, which was found burrowed more than 25 feet below ground. Though few human remains were recovered at the site, medical examiners were eventually able to positively identify the 33 passengers, seven crew-members and four hijackers aboard Flight 93. The youngest passenger of Flight 93 was 20-year-old Deora Frances Bodley.
Remembering Flight 93
In the weeks following the September 11 attacks, temporary memorials to the victims of United Flight 93 were erected at the Pennsylvania crash site and elsewhere, and in 2002 Congress established the Flight 93 National Memorial to create a permanent tribute to the plane’s passengers and crew. The first phase of the memorial was completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in September 2011.
Administered by the National Park Service and encompassing more than 2,220 acres, the memorial includes a visitor center; walking paths including the 40 Memorial Groves; and The Tower of Voices, a 93-foot tower with a wind chime representing each person who perished on board. Visitors can walk through Memorial Plaza to the Wall of Names, where the names of every passenger of Flight 93 are recorded, before proceeding to the crash site itself, known as “Sacred Ground,” the final resting place of the heroes of Flight 93.
List of Crew and Passengers of Flight 93
Captain Jason M. Dahl
First Officer LeRoy Homer
Lorraine G. Bay
Sandy Waugh Bradshaw
Wanda Anita Green
CeeCee Ross Lyles
Deborah Jacobs Welsh
Todd M. Beamer
Alan Anthony Beaven
Deora Frances Bodley
Marion R. Britton
Thomas E. Burnett, Jr.
William Joseph Cashman
Georgine Rose Corrigan
Patrick Joseph Driscoll
Edward Porter Felt
Jane C. Folger
Colleen L. Fraser
Andrew (Sonny) Garcia
Jeremy Logan Glick
Kristin Osterholm White Gould
Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas
Donald Freeman Greene
Richard J. Guadagno
Nicole Carol Miller
Louis J. Nacke II
Donald Arthur Peterson
Jean Hoadley Peterson
Mark David Rothenberg
Christine Ann Snyder
Honor Elizabeth Wainio
Families of Passengers Question Theory That Hijackers Crashed Flight 93
WASHINGTON – Families of passengers who rebelled against hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 (search) said Friday the FBI theory that the terrorists deliberately crashed the plane into a Pennsylvania field was based on "limited and questionable interpretations" of the cockpit recording.
The theory — described by FBI Director Robert Mueller (search) and disclosed deep within a congressional report on the Sept. 11 attacks — suggests insurgent passengers may not have successfully fought their way into the cockpit and grappled to seize the plane's controls, as has been popularly perceived.
"Without a doubt, the passengers breached the cockpit," said Randall Greene of New York, whose brother Donald, a pilot of smaller aircraft, was onboard. "I'm surprised by the theory attributed to the FBI director that the passengers did not take control of the aircraft."
In a joint statement by Families of Flight 93, relatives said they believe the passenger revolt primarily was responsible for the crash. U.S. officials have said they believe the hijackers intended to fly the Boeing 757 (search) into the White House.
"Until someone can produce specific translations of these tapes that are more than theory then it appears there is sufficient evidence to support the heroic acts of the passengers and crew in bringing Flight 93 down," the families said.
The FBI (search) has steadfastly maintained that its analysis isn't conclusive and doesn't detract from the heroism demonstrated by passengers, who are believed to have rushed down the airliner's narrow aisle to try to overwhelm the four hijackers.
In phone calls from the plane, four passengers said they and others decided to fight the hijackers after learning of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York that morning.
But the suggestion from the government that the hijackers in the cockpit decided to crash the plane — though under pressure from defiant passengers in the cabin — appears at odds with what families of some passengers have come to believe.
"I don't think the FBI got it right, what happened," said Tom Crowley of Atlanta, the uncle of Jeremy Glick, who died aboard the flight. He said Glick's widow, Elizabeth, was among family members permitted last year to listen to the cockpit recording and she believes she heard Glick delivering a judo strike to one hijacker.
"No question, any family member who listened to the tape will tell you the same thing, that they (passengers) were in the cockpit," said Crowley, who urged the government to make the recording public.
The plane went down far from the White House, in a field in the rural town of Shanksville, Pa. All 33 passengers, seven crew members and the four hijackers died.
The cockpit recording was played privately in April 2002 for family members of victims, and the FBI also provided them with its best effort at producing an understandable transcript.
"In the cockpit! In the cockpit!" the passengers were heard yelling, according to Alice Hoglan of Los Gatos, Calif., who listened to the recording. Her son, Mark Bingham, died in the crash. She said the recording and a transcript the FBI provided to her and other families "doesn't leave very much doubt at all that passengers were able to get that cockpit door open."
Hoglan said the FBI's transcript quotes one hijacker after fighting breaks out in the cabin asking another hijacker in the cockpit in Arabic, "Finish her/it now?" She said she believed they were discussing whether to crash the plane. The response from the second hijacker, she remembered, was either "wait" or "not now."
Some family members indicated after hearing the tape that they were led to believe that passengers used a food cart as a shield and broke into the cockpit.
Hoglan said the hijackers inside the cockpit are heard yelling "No!" at the sound of breaking glass — presumably from the food cart — and that the final spoken words on the recorder seemed to be an inexplicably calm voice in English instructing, "Pull it up."
She said the English voice toward the end of the recording was so distinct that she believes it's evident the speaker was inside the cockpit.
Citing transcripts of the still-unreleased cockpit recordings, Mueller told congressional investigators in a closed briefing last year that, minutes before Flight 93 hit the ground, one of the hijackers "advised Jarrah to crash the plane and end the passengers' attempt to retake the airplane."
Ziad Jarrah (search) is thought to have been the terrorist-pilot because he was the only of the four hijackers aboard known to have a pilot's license.
The chief executive of a foundation named for Todd M. Beamer (search), the passenger from New Jersey who said "Let's roll" just before the passengers revolted, said the FBI analysis doesn't diminish the heroism of the passengers. He said he had not spoken to Beamer's widow, Lisa, about the analysis, but said family members know "their loved ones on board did not sit idly by. There was a consensus to act."
"The result is that the terrorists failed in their attempt, and I truly believe the passengers had some role in that," Douglas A. MacMillan said.
On tape, passengers heard trying to retake cockpit
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Sounds of a 9/11 hijacking and a heroic struggle to retake the jetliner filled a courtroom Wednesday as jurors relived the final minutes of United Airlines Flight 93 through its cockpit voice recorder.
Prosecutors seeking the execution of admitted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui played the tape for the first time in public, closing their case with high drama.
The 31-minute tape is punctuated by the voices of people saying they didn't want to die, cries of "No, no, no!" and "Oh, God!" and hijackers barking commands and praising Allah. (Read the transcript -- PDF)
Moussaoui, a 37-year-old French citizen, is the only person tried in this country for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
Every seat in the courtroom was taken as the static-filled recording was played. (Watch what riveted the courtroom -- 2:01)
The tape also was broadcast to 9/11 families at federal courthouses in six cities, including Newark, New Jersey, where Flight 93 originated with 33 passengers, seven crew members and four hijackers on board. It was bound for San Francisco.
The government's presentation included real-time graphics showing the plane's altitude, air speed and flight path. The information was retrieved from the flight recorder, also recovered from the Pennsylvania crash site.
The voices on Flight 93's cockpit recording, the only one recovered intact from the four planes hijacked on September 11, speak in English and Arabic.
The tape begins at 9:32 a.m., four minutes after the terrorists took control of the plane. (Watch for details on prayers to Allah and the cockpit confusion -- 5:36)
"Ladies and gentlemen: here the captain," says Ziad Samir Jarrah, the Lebanese hijacker the FBI has identified as the pilot. "Please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit."
Pressing the wrong button, he transmits his announcement to air-traffic controllers in Cleveland, Ohio.
"Is that United 93 calling?" a controller asks. There is no response.
At 9:34, the sounds of hijackers assaulting someone, possibly the pilot or co-pilot can be heard.
"Please, please, don't hurt me," a man says.
"Down, no more," a hijacker replies.
'I don't want to die'
The hijackers are heard shouting "sit down" many times.
At 9:35, a woman prosecutors identified as a flight attendant begs for her life.
"I don't want to die," she pleads.
"No, no, down, down," a hijacker responds.
"I don't want to die. I don't want to die," she repeats.
Loud female cries then are heard on the tape.
"Everything is fine. I finished," a hijacker says in Arabic.
Moussaoui sat serenely in court as the tape was played. He has testified that he "rejoiced" when, acting as his own lawyer in 2002, he first heard the recording.
At 9:39 Jarrah makes a U-turn, reversing his course to head east toward Washington. He again makes an announcement that is heard only by the air traffic controllers.
"Here's the captain: I would like to tell you all to remain seated. We have a bomb aboard, and we are going back to the airport, and we have our demands. So please remain quiet," he says.
"That's 93 calling?" a controller asks. Again, there is no reply.
Transponder turned off
One minute later, Jarrah or another hijacker in the cockpit, Saeed al-Ghamdi, a Saudi, switches off the transponder that enables air traffic controllers to track the plane.
"This green knob?" one of the hijackers asks the other in Arabic. "Yes, that's the one."
At 9:48 Jarrah sets his course. The plane is flying level at 17,000 feet.
Herded to the back of the plane, at least eight passengers and two flight attendants make phone calls that provide detailed information about the attack, New Jersey state trooper Ray Guidetti told the jurors on Tuesday.
Passengers calling from the plane are informed by people on the ground about the synchronized suicide hijacking attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Flight 93's passengers and crew decide to storm the cockpit.
One of the more storied calls comes from passenger Todd Beamer of New Jersey, who has a long conversation with a GTE Airphone operator, Lisa Jefferson. The call was not taped.
"Are you ready?" a fellow passenger asks Beamer toward the end of the call. "Let's roll," Beamer replies, according to Jefferson's previous account.
Run on cockpit
The passengers' counterattack on the cockpit begins at 9:57 a.m., the recording reveals.
"Is there something?" a hijacker asks in Arabic. "A fight?"
Hijackers grab an axe to scare away the passengers who might peer through the cockpit door's peephole.
Jarrah makes a hard turn to the left, banking the plane. For the next minute, he rapidly pitches the plane from side to side, left to right, over and over again.
"Oh, Allah. Oh, Allah. Oh the most gracious," an Arabic voice inside the cockpit says.
Outside the cockpit, voices are heard saying, "In the cockpit. In the cockpit."
A hijacker says in Arabic, "They want to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold from the inside. Hold."
At 9:59 Jarrah points the plane's nose down, then jerks it back up. There are sounds of shouting and breaking glass.
"Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" a hijacker asks in Arabic.
"No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off," another hijacker responds in Arabic.
The passengers then make another run for the cockpit.
"In the cockpit! If we don't, we'll die," a male passenger says.
Seconds later, another passenger yells, "Roll it," a possible reference to a drink cart passengers might have used to ram the cockpit door.
"Cut off the oxygen," one of the hijackers says in Arabic, repeating the order three times.
Jarrah resumes pitching the plane from side to side.
Inside the cockpit the hijackers decide to crash the plane. "Pull it down. Pull it down," an Arabic voice says. The jetliner heads downward and rolls upside down.
"Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest!" one of the hijackers shouts over and over.
The tape ends at 10:03 as the plane nose-dives at an estimated 580 mph into a reclaimed coal field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles from Pittsburgh.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema decided last week to permit the government to play the tape for the jury. But she allowed only a written transcript to be released.
After the tape was played, Florida policeman Lorne Lyles testified that his wife, CeeCee, a 33-year-old flight attendant, called from the plane.
She told him, "Babe, I need for you to listen to me. My plane's been hijacked," he testified. "She said she hoped to see my smiling face again. I could hear the panic in her voice."
WI: Flight 93 Reclaimed from the Hijackers
They will also have difficulty
A. Keeping the plane in the air
B. Landing the plane safely.
Is it known for certain whether the passengers did or did not successfully reclaim the plane from the hijackers?
Just a Rube
Handwaving away the difficulty of the passengers somehow landing the craft (and doing so without being shot down by the Air Force), the passengers get celebrated as heroes, given medals, and probably stand to make a decent amount in book/movie rights. Everything else goes on as normal, with the exception that those men and women are still alive. I suppose one of them might decide to parlay his/her newfound celebrity into a career in politics, which might be potentially interesting.
The most interesting possibility would be if any of the hostage-takers were taken alive. I'd be kind of surprised if they were (the terrorists were on a suicide mission, and I doubt the passengers would have wanted to risk any of them detonating a bomb or regaining the upper hand, but it's possible), but it opens up interesting historical, political and legal questions. Think of all the controversy with the trials of Moussaoui et al., now compound them with the inevitable bloodlust against an actual 9/11 hijacker.
On a happier note, the 9/11 Truthers have even more difficulty trying to deny the terrorist attack when an actual hijacker was alive to testify it (although knowing conspiracy theorists, I'm sure they'd find some way).
The passengers wouldn't need to have too much experience with actually flying an aircraft, since as soon as the report goes out they're going to have a lot of help. Also, one of the passengers apparently was Donald Freeman Greene, Executive Vice President of the Safe Flight Instrument Corporation, and a registered pilot, so that should raise the odds of a safe landing.
They didnt have problems communicating with the ground before they struck back and as the movies United 93, Flight 93 and various documenturys have shown us the phones were operating right up until the plane crashed.
And didnt the planes that was sent after them lack missiles?
They didnt have problems communicating with the ground before they struck back and as the movies United 93, Flight 93 and various documenturys have shown us the phones were operating right up until the plane crashed.
And didnt the planes that was sent after them lack missiles?
If you thought the USA was hard on this guy, wait until they get their hands on Ziad Jarrah. I really doubt anyone will be able to withstand the "enhanced interrogation techniques" the USA would subject him too.
As has been mentioned above, the passengers probably would have been able to land the plane, especially because one of them was a licensed pilot. It's important to note, however, that the cockpit recording recovered from the crash site (the only one of the 4 recovered) indicates that one or both of the pilots may have still been alive, and merely subdued and/or unconscious, so if they could wake up one of the pilots landing should be no problem.
Unfortunately, I doubt this would kill conspiracy theories. Keep in mind that Ziad Jarrah was brought up in a wealthy, secular background (he was Lebanese), and thus didn't fit the profile of the other hijackers. IIRC, he almost backed out of the plot several times before Mohamed Atta convinced him to go through with it. Because the surviving 9/11 pilot happens to be a formerly secular Muslim who spoke good English, I can see conspiracies arising that Jarrah was planted/hired by the US government.
As NoOneFamous said, they'd land where the USAF told them to, although I'd imagine given the proximity and the fact that a pilot who most likely has no experience in piloting a large airliner is in the left seat (with a non-pilot assisting from the right seat), that would be Pittsburgh International with its long runways and ANG base. I'd imagine they'd also get fighter escort plus a seasoned pilot in the ATC to coach them through the approach and landing.
As far as the aftermath, I'd imagine it'd remain much the same except for the book and movie script deals undoubtedly coming Flight 93's passengers' way.
I'd be more interested in finding out what becomes of the terrorists themselves. I personally consider the terrorists' survival unlikely given that there were three to subdue and I doubt the passengers would take chances leaving one potentially able to fight back while they dealt with the others. Plus the passengers were aware of the successful attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon from cellphone calls, they'd know the score and probably would move to end the threat permanently at the outset of the retaking of the plane rather than purposely aim to knock one unconscious or restrain him in order to turn him over to the authorities. However, assuming the passengers were successful in getting the plane leveled out and headed towards Pittsburgh and found themselves with one or more unconscious or seriously injured hijackers, do they restrain them like Richard Reid or the Underwear Bomber? Or would some of them push to eliminate the threat to the flight for good given the passengers' stress and their knowledge of the hijackers' mission? How would the passengers be seen by the court of public opinion if they chose to kill a hijacker that had already been subdued? I can see the conspiracy theorists running wild if that were to happen.
‘Let’s roll’: The heroic final moments of United Flight 93 on 9/11
Four commercial jets were hijacked on September 11. Only one did not meet its target. As chronicled in “History 9/11: The Final Minutes of Flight 93,” airing Friday at 8 p.m. on History, the bravery of passengers and crew aboard the United Airlines flight from Newark to San Francisco prevented death, heartache, destruction. Heroic Americans, they stopped terrorists from flying into the Capitol building. Instead, as they fought for control, the plane crashed into a field near rural Shanksville, Pa., at 10:03 a.m.
Duncan Bulling, director of the documentary, worked with audio forensics specialist Ed Primeau to analyze cockpit recordings that give a fuller picture of what happened.
“What those people did was such an amazing act of courage,” Bulling told The Post. “They fought against the odds to stop an airplane from crashing into the Capitol building.”
The 40 passengers and crew members, all of whom died, will be honored Friday when President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden both pay their respects at the site of the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville.
As laid out in the documentary, here is a minute-by-minute chronicle, with freshly revealed details, of what took place aboard an airplane set on a collision course with the heart of our nation.
Wall of Names Flight 93 Memorial. A+E NETWORKS
Four minutes after Flight 93 had taken off — at 8:42 a.m., following a 40-minute delay — the first airplane flew into the World Trade Center. In short order, all planes were grounded, but Flight 93 was already en route to San Francisco.
At 9:27, when Captain Jason Dahl checked in with Cleveland’s air traffic control, all was well. Minutes later, though, there were frantic calls of “Mayday! Mayday!”
Within 60 seconds, the audio cut out. According to Primeau, two terrorists were struggling to take control of the cockpit. “The Final Minutes” maintains that terrorists could have breached the locked cockpit with an extra key kept near the door.
“It sounds like the pilot has been moved away from the controls,” Primeau says in the doc. “And then, radio silence.”
Audio forensics specialist Ed Primeau A+E NETWORKS
The forcefulness of the takeover leads Bulling to believe that Saeed al-Ghamdi and Ahmed al-Nami infiltrated the cockpit. They were both trained by al Qaeda in unarmed combat.
First-class passenger Tom Burnett called home at 9:30 a.m. and told his wife, Deena, that a fellow passenger, Mickey Rothenberg, had been stabbed and murdered. He asked his wife to call authorities and report a hijacking.
“I was trying to think who you call for a hijacking,” she says in the documentary.
Deena Burnett A+E NETWORKS
Five minutes into the takeover, terrorist Ziad Samir Jarrah (who had recently completed a piloting course) was in the cockpit and at the controls. Representing himself as the plane’s captain, he announced that he had a bomb. He turned the plane around, heading toward Washington, DC, and the Capitol building, which, according to Bulling, captured terrorists have identified as the target.
Meanwhile, on the ground, there was talk about sending a military airplane to “scramble” the United flight.
By 9:37, passengers were corralled past row 33. They were encouraged to call loved ones — “I suspect it was a way of showing [that the terrorists] were in control,” said Bulling. Passengers began formulating a plan as relatives despaired.
Alice Hoagland, the mother of passenger Mark Bingham, left a final voicemail message: “You’ve been hijacked by terrorists. They are planning to use the plane … to probably hit some site on the ground. Try to overpower these guys … I love you, sweetie. Good luck. Bye bye.”
At 9:41, the plane was 34 minutes from the Capitol. Jarrah shut off most mechanisms that would allow it to be tracked — save for what one air traffic controller calls “bleeps on a radar scope” that provided minimal information.
(Clockwise from top left) Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Ibrahim A. al-Haznawi, Saeed Alghamdi and Ziad Samir al-Jarrah Getty Images
All 4,500 aircraft in flight at that moment were ordered to land immediately. A decision to scramble — in which fighter jets surround an airplane and may shoot it down — was still not reached. At 9:47, Tom called Deena a final time. She asked if he wanted to speak with their children. As Deena recalls in the documentary, Tom told her, “No. Tell them I’ll see them tonight.”
Another bid was made to scramble aircraft. But authorities remained indecisive. “Nobody was prepared for this,” Bulling said. “They were ready for a plane in distress, not for terrorists taking over a plane.”
Al Ghamdi and now Jarrah, according to the doc, were in the cockpit. The other two terrorists guarded the remaining 33 passengers and seven crew members. At 9:56, the plane was near Shanksville when flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw called her husband. She told him they were “boiling water and are about to race to the front of the plane and attack the hijackers.”
The cockpit tape of Flight 93’s final minutes remains classified by the FBI. But victims’ relatives were allowed to hear it. “It was a lot to take — listening to our loved ones die,” Elsa Strong, sister of passenger Linda Gronlund, says in the doc. “That’s hard.”
But they did not die without a fight. Recalling what she heard on the tape, Deena says, “The hijackers realized that passengers and crew were coming to get them. There was the sense that [passengers and crew] were working together.”
Todd Beamer, who would be the subject of a book co-authored by his wife, Lisa, recited the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm before famously calling out, “Are you ready? OK. Let’s roll.”
Suddenly the plane began flying erratically. Altitude was lost. Course was reversed. “Then they ran up the length of a 757 with all their improvised weapons and you can hear them coming,” says Hoagland. “It became louder and louder … They were chanting, ‘In the cockpit! In the cockpit!’ They rattled the heck out of those guys in the front. They were terrified.”
Those who heard the tape make clear that there was scuffling in the cabin. “You can hear a hijacker being hit,” says Deena. He let out a “cry and a wail as if he had been fatally struck.”
As 10 o’clock neared, the plane was rocking back and forth. Hijackers discussed “putting it in the ground” as the battle came to them. The plane went into a series of climbs and dives. Panicked terrorists hoped to disorient their attackers.
Officials examine the crater on Sept. 11, 2001, at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. AFP via Getty Images
Beamer and other passengers attacked the cockpit door with a food and drinks trolley.
They eventually broke through. Loved ones who heard the audio recall the melee in the cockpit, with pitched combat for the controls. “Jarrah,” says the doc’s narrator, “turns the plane upside down.”
Flight 93 nosedived toward the ground at more than 500 miles per hour. It crashed at 10:03 and 10 seconds.
Twenty-nine minutes later, the military was cleared to take action and “shoot down aircraft that do not respond to our direction.” But it was too late for Flight 93.
“Those heroes on United 93 averted an enormous potential catastrophe,” Ben Sliney, national operations manager, air traffic command, says in the documentary. “I don’t doubt at all that they came to the right decision and did the right thing on that day — even though it cost them their lives.”
Keeping the Memory of 9/11 Alive at the Site Where Flight 93 Went Down
Families of Flight 93’s passengers and crew members, who died while fighting back against hijackers, are looking to honor a hero to raise awareness about Sept. 11.
Before the pandemic, about half a million people visited the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., each year. The visitor center details the events of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when passengers and crew members stormed the cockpit of a hijacked jetliner and thwarted terrorists, possibly preventing an attack on the U.S. Capitol.
A wall of phones is central to the exhibit. Pick one up and guests will hear a goodbye message left by one of the 40 passengers and crew members for their families before the plane crashed into a field just east of Pittsburgh at 10:03 a.m, one hour 21 minutes after taking off from Newark Liberty International Airport, killing them all.
Tour guides often explain that these goodbyes were collected from answering machines. Young visitors often have the same question, according to Donna Gibson, the president of Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial: What is an answering machine?
This question serves as a reminder, Ms. Gibson said: Teaching history to the 75 million Americans born after Sept. 11 — nearly a quarter of the U.S. population — requires new tactics. With the 20th anniversary of the attack rapidly approaching and the world-altering events of that day receding further into history, her organization announced on Monday the creation of a Flight 93 Heroes Award to try to engage younger generations.
“I hope that it inspires educators and parents to want to teach their children more about what happened at Flight 93,” Ms. Gibson said. She has noticed that with each passing year, fewer and fewer people seem to know what happened on the flight, or more broadly about the events of Sept. 11. Her organization recently conducted a survey of schools throughout Pennsylvania to find out how they approached teaching about that day. Ms. Gibson was surprised to learn that “there is no real formal education,” she said.
On its website to submit nominations, the organization says it is looking for people who performed acts of heroism in 2020. “Like those on board Flight 93, they suddenly found themselves forced to make a decision to help others, placing their own life at risk,” the submission form says.
The winner will be recognized with a formal plaque and a presentation some time around Sept. 11, Ms. Gibson said.
Ms. Gibson’s group is far from the first to notice that knowledge of Sept. 11 is eroding.
Jeremy Stoddard, a professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, surveyed more than 1,000 middle and high school teachers in 2018 to find out how they approached teaching about Sept. 11 and the war on terror. About 130 history, government and social studies teachers said they had never taught students about Sept. 11.
Among those who had led classes on it, many said that they didn’t have the materials needed to address the topic. Teachers were facing not only ignorance but also “misunderstandings about the events because of inaccurate information from family members or even conspiracy theories from the web,” Mr. Stoddard said.
Cheryl Lynn Duckworth, a professor of conflict resolution at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, wrote a book called “9/11 and Collective Memory in U.S. Classrooms: Teaching About Terror.” In the process of researching it, she talked to many teachers. “The key barriers I found to teaching about it were one, time and lack of inclusion in the curriculum two, emotional barriers (pain and grief remain for many teachers) and three, self-censorship regarding a sensitive and unfortunately politicized topic,” she wrote in an email.
She thought that the Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial’s hero award sounded like a smart way to generate interest in the events of Sept. 11 and the war on terror, so long as the selection committee did not put outsize weight on military heroism. According to the criteria on the award website, nominees should demonstrate “courage at the risk of one’s own personal safety” and put “the physical well-being of someone else above themselves.”
A struggle outside the cockpit door on Flight 93
The scene aboard the hijacked airliner played out like a radio drama as passengers tried to storm the cockpit. Amid sounds of shouting, screaming and breaking dishes, one hijacker called to a partner at the jet's controls, "Pull it down! Pull it down!"
The pilot turned the control wheel hard to the right, and the jet rolled onto its back. United Airlines Flight 93 headed down.
Forty-eight seconds later, at 10:03:11 a.m., as a hijacker shouted, "Allah is the greatest" over and over in Arabic, the plane crashed nose first into a Pennsylvania field, killing the hijackers and the passengers who defied them.
In a chilling account based on tape recordings, mechanical data, FBI documents and interviews, the Sept. 11 commission assembled the most complete account yet of events inside Flight 93 and the other three jetliners hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
According to the commission's final report, issued Thursday, the Flight 93 struggle apparently took place at the closed door to the cockpit. Unarmed passengers tried in vain to fight their way inside as an increasingly frantic hijacker jerked the controls violently to throw them off balance.
On one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center, passengers also discussed storming the cockpit but apparently took no action in their few remaining minutes. It was aboard Flight 93 that passengers, alerted in telephone conversations that other planes had been crashed, fought back.
Flight 93, carrying 37 passengers and a crew of seven, took off late from Newark for Los Angeles at 8:42 a.m.--four minutes before American Airlines Flight 11 ripped into the World Trade Center's North Tower and 21 minutes before United Flight 175 tore into the South Tower.
The four hijackers aboard Flight 93 sat in first class. Meal service probably started on schedule.
In the cockpit, the pilots first learned of the earlier hijackings at 9:24, when a United dispatcher named Ed Ballinger sent a text warning: "Beware any cockpit intrusion--two a/c hit World Trade Center."
Pilot Jason Dahl responded within two minutes "with a note of puzzlement," the commission reported: "Ed, confirm latest mssg plz--Jason."
Two minutes later, at 9:28, the hijackers attacked as the plane flew above eastern Ohio. Air traffic controllers noticed the plane suddenly drop 700 feet, and over the radio they heard one of the cockpit crew call out "Mayday!" amid sounds of struggle.
The radio shut off. Thirty-five seconds later, in another radio transmission, one crew member was heard shouting: "Hey! Get out of here. Get out of here. Get out of here."
Passengers later reported to friends and relatives by telephone that two people lay on the floor, injured or dead.
At 9:32, one of the hijackers announced: "Ladies and gentlemen. Here the captain. Please sit down. Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit."
The pilot turned the jetliner and headed east. The commission believes his target was the White House or the Capitol.
A woman, most likely a flight attendant, was held in the cockpit at one point. On the cockpit voice recorder, she could be heard struggling with a hijacker, who silenced her.
A passenger soon reported in another phone conversation that a flight attendant had been killed.
At 9:39, an air traffic controller overheard an announcement that there was a bomb on board and the airliner was returning to the airport.
The fact that the controller heard it meant the hijacker had pressed the wrong button on his radio. That also meant his words were not broadcast to the cabin.
The cockpit voice recorder, drawing from microphones in the pilots' headsets and an overhead panel, recorded the last 31 minutes of the flight.
Also, at least 10 passengers and two crew members who had been forced to the back of the aircraft made calls on the plane's air phone system, learning of the World Trade Center attack.
At least five calls included word that passengers were discussing a revolt to retake the plane. One said they had voted on it.
"At 9:57 a.m.," the commission said, "the passenger assault began."
Ending a call to the ground, one woman aboard the plane said: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to go. Bye."
When the passengers charged, the hijackers' pilot, Ziad Jarrah, rolled the airplane right and left, trying to knock the attackers off balance. At 9:58, he told another hijacker to block the door. A minute later, he pitched the nose of the airplane up and down for 11 seconds.
At 8 seconds past 10 o'clock, Jarrah asked a colleague: "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?"
The other hijacker replied, "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off."
The recorder captured the sounds of continued fighting outside the cockpit, and Jarrah again dipped the airplane's nose.
At 26 seconds past 10, a passenger cried out: "In the cockpit. If we don't, we'll die!"
Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled, "Roll it!" This appears to be distinct from "Let's roll!"--the phrase made famous after Todd Beamer used it apparently to rally fellow passengers as he ended a call with a GTE Airfone operator.
At 10:01, Jarrah stopped the maneuvers and called out twice, "Allah is the greatest!" He asked his fellow hijacker again, "Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" This time his colleague answered, "Yes, put it in it, and pull it down."
Eighty-three seconds later, at 10:02:23, with sounds of the passenger assault still audible, the hijacker called out, "Pull it down! Pull it down!"
"Jarrah's objective was to crash his airliner into the symbols of the American republic, the Capitol or the White House," the commission wrote. "He was defeated by the alerted, unarmed passengers of United 93."
Flight 93 tape: Horror, heroics
Sandy Dahl has kept silent about the 30 harrowing minutes she has heard of United Flight 93’s cockpit recording and her husband’s final breaths before the jetliner crashed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.
Contrary to what history has documented, she believes Jason Dahl, the pilot of the doomed flight, was alive but dying in the final minutes as a hijacker in the co-pilot’s seat shouted at him to stop moving.
“All the reports in the press and the government had him dead in the first-class cabin on the floor before the plane was brought down,” Dahl said. “I always knew he was alive and in the cockpit with the hijackers, and I haven’t been able to say anything about it.”
A veteran United Airlines flight attendant, Dahl, 45, who lives in Lone Tree and Scottsdale, Ariz., believes her husband’s final actions might have involved disabling the Boeing 757’s autopilot system, preventing the hijackers from setting coordinates for Washington, D.C.
Jurors in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial listened Wednesday to the recording of terrified shouting in the cockpit as passengers twice charged hijackers. Dahl and relatives of the passengers and crew had listened to the tapes in previous years but signed confidentiality agreements to not disclose what was in the recordings until the jury heard them.
Sandy Dahl has anguished over keeping what she has heard secret because she feels that accounts in the media and the 9/11 Commission’s report have omitted the bravery of the flight’s seven crew members.
“I don’t think any one person was more important than the other, but history has glorified four or five passengers, and that’s just not what happened,” Dahl said.
In the flight’s final minutes, voices can be heard, including some believed to be passengers or crew: “Go. Go.” “Move. Move.” “In the cockpit,” a passenger says. “If we don’t, we’ll die.”
Two minutes before the jetliner crashes – killing all 33 passengers, seven crew members and four hijackers aboard – one of the hijackers asks another, “Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?”
“Yes, put it in it, and pull it down,” another voice replies in Arabic.
The last words come from a hijacker: “Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest.”
Despite the detail of the voice recording and because the cockpit ceiling microphone can pick up sounds from the passenger cabin, particularly if the cockpit door is open, there are multiple interpretations of the final seconds of the flight.
But Sandy Dahl, who says her experience as an attendant has helped her understand a lot of the background sounds, is sure she heard her husband’s moaning in the cockpit throughout much of the ordeal. She points to evidence that shows her husband’s DNA and teeth were found in the area of the nose of the plane.
“It’s been widely speculated that Jason died in the first-class cabin and so did (co-pilot) Leroy (Homer), and neither of them did,” she said. “I listened to that tape from a flight attendant’s perspective, and I was able to recognize the horns that go off in the cockpit, the alarms. I know what it sounds like to sit inside the cockpit and hear noises coming from other side of the cockpit door.”
The first voice heard on the recording is a hijacker making an announcement, apparently believing he was speaking over the plane’s public-address system, but instead it went out to tower operators in Cleveland.
“Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit.”
Moments later, a hijacker is heard saying in English: “Don’t move. Shut up. … Sit, sit, sit down.”
It’s at this moment that Sandy Dahl believes the hijackers are speaking to Jason Dahl.
“He was fussing at my husband,” she said. “I could tell because he was speaking in English, and he spoke Arabic anytime he was talking with the other hijackers. It’s possible they cut Jason’s throat, but maybe not deep enough, because he made moaning sounds after that. It sounded like he was trying to mess with stuff or get up, because the hijacker pilot kept telling him to stop and to sit down.”
It’s around this time she believes Jason Dahl, a trainer who was knowledgeable about crippling an aircraft, did something to disable the autopilot system.
There were horn sounds that she says indicate the hijackers were unable to get autopilot to engage and were fiddling with a green knob.
“It sounds to me like this pilot did not know exactly what he was doing,” Sandy Dahl said.
A hijacker then comments to another to go fetch the pilot, possibly co-pilot Leroy Homer, which would indicate he was still alive.
“I’m wondering if during all that fussing with Jason if he wasn’t doing something to mess with it I can’t tell for sure, but I don’t think Jason was going to let these people do what they wanted to do,” Sandy Dahl said. “The autopilot was working when Jason was flying the plane and it wasn’t working when the hijacker pilot was at the controls. My husband wouldn’t have flown that plane if the autopilot had been malfunctioning.”
Six minutes into the recording, a hijacker makes another announcement in English: “Here’s the captain I would like to tell you all to remain seated. We have a bomb aboard, and we are going back to the airport, and we have our demands. So, please remain quiet.”
The San Francisco-bound plane, now over western Pennsylvania, turns back toward the East.
There are also the sounds of what may have been the killing of a flight attendant as the hijackers took control: A woman in the cockpit moans, “Please, please, don’t hurt me.” Her voice soon appears again for the last time as she is heard to say, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die,” followed by one of the hijackers saying in Arabic: “Everything is fine. I finished.”
Apparently unbeknown to the hijackers, passengers with cellphones learn jets have crashed into the World Trade Center.
Five minutes later, it’s apparent there’s a fight. The hijackers discuss shutting off oxygen to the cabin, and eventually the cockpit door is breached and passengers or crew members are in the cockpit fighting for control of the plane.
The recording ends with a three-minute crescendo of noise as a passenger apparently just outside the door shouts, “In the cockpit! If we don’t, we’ll die.”
“To know that Jason spent those last terrorizing moments alone in the cockpit with that hijacker, it’s been difficult to not talk about, but I understand that (federal prosecutors) were trying to protect their evidence,” she said. “But there was a riot of passengers and crew members on that plane. I heard what sounded like at least 20 voices, and I heard determination in their voices – it was like a war cry. But the hijackers were screaming back the same way.”
Denver Post wire services contributed to this report.
Last minutes of United Flight 93
All times are EDT on Sept. 11, 2001. Speakers are not identified. (Words in parentheses are English translations of Arabic.) For a full transcript, go to denverpost.com.
09:31:57 – Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit.
09:32:09 – Er, uh … Calling Cleveland center … You’re unreadable. Say again slowly.
09:32:10 – Don’t move. Shut up.
09:34:29 – Please, please, don’t hurt me …
09:35:42 – I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.
09:37:36 -(Everything is fine. I finished.)
09:39:11 – Ah. Here’s the captain. I would like to tell you all to remain seated. We have a bomb aboard, and we are going back to the airport, and we have our demands. So, please remain quiet.
09:53:20 – (The best thing: The guys will go in, lift up the) … unintelligible … (and they put the axe into it. So, everyone will be scared.)
09:57:55 – (Is there something?)
09:58:33 – Unintelligible. (Let’s go, guys. Allah is greatest. Allah is greatest. Oh, guys. Allah is greatest.)
09:58:57 – (They want to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold from the inside. Hold).
At 09:59:30, a loud crashing noise is heard, possibly an attempt to ram the cockpit door.
10:00:07 – (Is that it? Shall we finish it off?)
10:00:09 – (When they all come, we finish it off.)
10:00:22 – (Oh, Allah. Oh, Allah. Oh, gracious.)
10:00:25 – In the cockpit. If we don’t, we’ll die.
Another loud crash is heard.
10:00:29 – (Up, down. Up, down, in the) cockpit.
10:00:37 – (Up, down. Saeed, up, down.)
10:01:08 – (Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?)
10:01:09 – (Yes, put it in it, and pull it down.)
10:01:18 – (Cut off the oxygen. Cut off the oxygen. Cut off the oxygen.)
Unanswered Questions About Flight 93
WOULD OUR GOVERNMENT LIE TO US? Suppose, just suppose, that United Flight 93, the hero flight, Newark to San Francisco, was not crashed in rural Pennsylvania by hijackers but rather was shot down by American jet fighters. "Friendly fire."
Would our government admit that kind of tragedy or would it cover up?
It is fair to assume that the events of Sept. 11 concerning Flight 93 happened just the way we've been told. The plane took off, and, after about 45 minutes, was hijacked. The hijackers allowed the passengers to make telephone calls. They did, and at least one of them ended his call by saying he and other passengers were going to fight the hijackers. Shortly after that, the plane crashed.
The fair assumption is that the heroic passengers took on the hijackers and, in their assault, control of the plane was lost.
But what if the passengers gained control of the plane only to have it shot down by an American fighter jet? Is that possible?
By the time Flight 93 crashed, all civilian aircraft had been ordered to land. Presumably, by the time Flight 93 went down, most other civilian aircraft were on the ground.
Military jet fighters had been scrambled more than an hour earlier. They were in the air. They had been ordered to protect the White House "at all costs," according to The New York Times. Flight 93, we're told, was headed in the direction of the White House.
Flight 93's "black box," the flight recorder, has been recovered, but so far the government hasn't seen fit to allow the press or the public to hear what was on it.
The government also refuses to give out the names of the fighter pilots known to be flying in the vicinity of Flight 93. Because we don't know who they are, they can't be interviewed.
And, strangely, the man who assumed command in Washington on that day, Vice President Dick Cheney, has kept a remarkably low profile since then. True, he makes a cameo appearance from time to time, but for the most part he's been hidden from public scrutiny.
Why? They say it's for "security reasons." But the guy we should be most concerned about, our president, is all over the place these days. Why does Dick Cheney have to remain in hiding when President George W. Bush spends more time before television cameras than Wolf Blitzer?
Cheney's absence doesn't pass the smell test. It smells fishy. Is he hiding because he doesn't want to answer questions about Flight 93?
I'm not suggesting here that Flight 93 was shot down by "friendly fire." If it was, well, that's the kind of thing that happens when people start killing each other. I can understand mistakes, and I can accept many of them.
I believe most Americans have a certain tolerance for mistakes. However, none of us likes being lied to.
In my opinion, the government should be far more forthcoming about the events of Sept. 11. If the military pilots did nothing wrong, if they shot at nobody, why hide them? For protection? Protection from what? A proud nation that respects them for doing a dangerous job well?
Their names should be made public and they should be made available to the press.
We should have an opportunity to hear for ourselves what was recorded on the flight recorder. Don't just tell us it was mushy or vague or difficult to understand. Let us decide that for ourselves. We're Americans. We have a right to know what's going on with our government.
And, finally, Dick Cheney should come out of hiding. When and if he does, I hope some reporter has the gumption to ask him what orders he issued on Sept. 11 and what were the results of those orders.
It would be a terrible, terrible irony if the brave passengers of Flight 93 gained control of the plane only to be shot down by our own forces. But if that's what happened, we have a right to know it.